Ordinarily, January is the most depressing month of the year, right? Christmas is gone, everyone’s skint and it’s dark. So dark. This year, 2021, January decided to up the ante and do the bleakness in style. The perfect storm; the triple whammy of lockdown, Brexit and utterly freezing, icy conditions. what’s not to despise.
Everyone you speak to seems to be in a bad place and I now wonder when, as a nation, we reach the tipping point between the balance of mental health and physical health. Staying indoors may well keep us virus-free, but I get a feeling that folk are slowly losing their minds.
Enough. Let’s change the mood and what better to talk about than music. There was so much great new stuff to catch up on this month – the perfect antidote to the January blues. Some of it was material that was fresh on to the shelves for 2021. But some was older, although not by much. Let’s begin by looking at some fantastic music that slipped through my net last year.
Let’s start with Gabriels, who released their debut EP in December. This soulful LA-based band have been responsible for the song that has been on a constant loop in my brain throughout January. Love And Hate In A Different Time is solid gold; a fusion of northern soul and gospel with this idiosyncratic three-clap thing that burrows into your psyche. More please.
I was introduced to Fana Hues by Mixless’s show, Sound Waves, on Radio Free Matlock. My God, what a voice and such incredible tunes. It’s another album that has featured in my listening schedule in January and if you are keen on stuff like Solange (which you should be) then this artist with such a gorgeous, soulful voice will be right up your street. I highly recommend checking out the sublime Desert Flower for a taster.
Finally, we have Frequent Traveller’s quite incredible album Real Life. I’m not going to dwell on it here – I have a feeling I might becoming back to this one pretty soon (inserts winking emoji here).
So, now to 2021. Already, it’s a year where we are blessed with great stuff.
The aforementioned Frequent Traveller’s album is a travelogue and, in that theme, I’m now about to do my own little bit of globe trotting. Let’s start in my beloved Portugal. Lisbon-based Beautify Junkyards dropped the first great album of the year with Cosmorama. I love this collection. It is so mellow and chilled and I’m grateful for the fact that The Quietus reviewed it and therefore introduced me to it.
From the beauty of Lisbon, we head north to the wintry, icy cold magnificence of one of Europe’s great cities, Berlin. Classically trained singer, Xufa, has released her poptastic second single, The Wild and it has vied with the Gabriels track for ear worm status. Like Fana Hues, this is another artist with the voice of an angel who must be destined for massive think. That’s why I reviewed it for Louder Than War.
From Germany, it’s a short hop across the border to France; Angers to be specific. There we find Fabrice Nau, vocalist and 50% of Scenius. The other 50% is producer Steve Whitfield (The Cure, The Mission, Jah Wobble). Together, they have collaborated to create Enough Fears, a dark electro-pop album that is absolutely worth checking out.
Let’s get back on the road – long haul this time, all the way to LA. I get quite a lot of musicians getting in touch to ask about reviews and whilst I would love to help wherever I can, it’s not always possible. Time is finite. But something dropped in my inbox last month that made my ears prick up. Ben Varian’s collection, Another Breakfast With The Book is a delightful album. It’s quirky, it’s smart, it’s musically superb and brilliantly produced. If you’re into Steely Dan or any kind of US soft rock, you will love this.
Finally, we arrive at my album of the month and I travel back to these shores for that one. It’s the fourth release from Cue Dot Records and it absolutely maintains the high standards set by the first three. The album is called Everything Fades and it’s by electronic genius, Manfred Hamil. In Louder Than War I described it as “an exhilarating rollercoaster ride that will give you all the feels”, because it is. It’s genuinely fantastic and I will be very surprised if it doesn’t crop up on my musical advent at the end of the year.
So, that’s January. Virtually done and now that I’ve reflected on those musical highlights, it doesn’t seem quite so bad. Now to don the coat, gloves and wooly hat for the highlight of my week – the trip to the supermarket. In God’s name, what have we become?